I broke for lunch later than usual on Wednesday, owing to the fact I wanted to finish drafting Chapter 14. I won’t bore you with the details about what I ate. (OK, Minestrone soup with added chunks of chicken, if you’re dying to know.) So not only did I end up taking Cass for an afternoon walk that was later than usual, but once I got there I realised I’d forgotten to put her collar on. I ummed and ahhed about going back home to get it but decided to continue without. (Fortunately, on that walk, she barely touches the lead, if at all.) I don’t believe in fate but, well, it felt afterwards that I was meant to be right where I had been.
Twenty metres ahead, that is. I’m ready to go off into my own little world and start thinking about what I’m going to write next—Chapter 15. As I do, a man bends down to say hello to Cass. I walk behind him and am about to go on my way when I decide to be polite and say hello. Turns out he’s a recently published first-time author with a movie deal on the way.
Right in front of me, there is somebody who is at the point I’m trying to get to; exactly where I want to be. (He even had a golden retriever!)
So we get talking, in that way only dog walkers can. For over an hour, in fact. (Cass got so bored she browned her nose with mud from tugging up tufts of turf, while I attempted to get a brown nose of my own.) Even though we talked mostly about him (to be fair, I am a nobody—currently), I did come away with some very useful advice.
Mr Author told me the importance of the opening page, especially the first paragraph. How it’s good to have a scene that the reader (before that, the agent or publisher) can visualise, which then leaves them asking what happens next? Otherwise, in his words, you’re dead in the water.
Even though I’d heard this before, hearing it from someone’s mouth and having it spoken directly to me, as opposed to reading it on a screen or a page, really made the words hit home. Literally. I went home and immediately began re-writing Chapter 1. Until that moment, I was going to do that starting tomorrow (or there abouts), once I’d written Chapter 15. However, Mr Author had lit a fire and I had to fan the flames.
While some agents and publishers want whole drafts, other’s don’t. They may only want the first chapter and a synopsis, Mr Author said. This got me questioning when I should start putting my work out there. (I’ve yet to reach a decision, though my gut tells me to finish the book and draft it a few times, until I think it’s as its best. It’s the roundabout way but if I do it before, I may be jumping the gun and sending off manuscripts that aren’t as good as they could later be, effectively ruining my chances.)
The second most important piece of advice I was given by Mr Author was to buy this book. As soon as I had finished writing that day, I put it straight on my Christmas list and sent it first-class to Father Christmas himself (read: “Mum, could I have this book for Christmas, please?”). Although I still consider myself in the ‘early days’, I look forward to working my way through this bible over the Christmas break. Not only does it list contact details of publishers and agents and anyone I’d ever want to approach, it tells you what those publishers and agents want and how they want them. In other words: invaluable advice!
Among other things, Mr Author told me about his personal experience of how he went about writing his book and getting it published, as well as how the whole process in general works. Despite the cold, he was very generous with his time and advice. He even gave me a contact card and to get in touch, saying he’d do what he could to help me. Mr Author may have just been acting polite, but I like to think (and hope—forever hopeful!) not. Since I’m in those ‘early days’, I don’t consider myself in a position to start approaching people like Mr Author or agents or publishers just yet, but if I’ve made my first contact then it’s something to definitely consider for in the future.
Not only that, Mr Author has put me on a course that I believe will only benefit my manuscript in the long run.
As I say, I don’t believe in fate—I believe we create our own—but I do believe the universe was giving me a helping hand by putting me in the right place at the right time. Thank you, universe.
When I eventually came away from the conversation it was with a blurred mind (and cold hands—along with Cass’s lead, I’d also forgotten my gloves). I didn’t even walk that far afterwards, deciding instead to head back home to beat the school traffic. (Sorry, Cass!) I couldn’t think about anything else other than Chapter 1 and making it perfect (for a first draft, that is). It just felt right to leave Chapter 15 for now and, in the words of Coldplay, though I prefer Willie Nelson’s cover version, to Oh take me back to the start!
Since Wednesday afternoon through to Friday evening, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’d already decided to re-write the chapter a while back, and going over what I had written three months ago was, well… Seeing what Past Tom had written, it was a bit of an awww look at him, he’s tried his best moment. I knew before reading it that it wasn’t my best work, that it was a bit confused, and far-too explanatory. (I think Chapter 2 was the first chapter I wrote where I felt assured by my work; even that can be improved, though.) Going over it, though, was good to see just how far I’ve come in only a few months. Hopefully, with the more I write, I’m only going to improve.
The best bit of advice I’ve read so far is your first draft is the worst version of your story. In other words, you can only make it better—which is exactly what I’ve been doing. To be fair, Chapter 1 and the Prologue are the first serious pieces of writing I’d done in some time, so as well as introducing myself to the world of Everborne, it was also an exercise in dusting off the cobwebs.
Going over my work is allowing me to cherry pick the good from the bad, and take that, as little as it may appear, to be improved upon. I’m barely 2,000 words into my re-write (as I’m working at a much slower pace) but I think what I’ve written is MUCH—nay, infinitely—better than what I started with. I may even share it on here soon.
Talking to Mr Author really made me realise I should make my manuscript as best as possible for my reading circle in February. (At least, as best as I can make it in that moment in time.) If that perfected-ish first draft is then the worst my story will be, once I have feedback, I should only be able to make it better.
I doubt I’ll get Chapter 15 written before the end of the year, like I had intended, but that’s OK. I’m flexible, baby. (Physically, I’m about as bendable as an oak.) Right now I think it’s more important to focus on what I have and make it as best as possible. Hopefully, this will also make what I continue to write even better, as well.
I’m even reconsidering taking a full two weeks off at Christmas. Right now, I’m eager to get my first draft to my readers. We’ll see, though.
Getting Chapter 14 finished wasn’t as hard as beginning it was. After having the weekend to think it over, I was able to think about where to go with the chapter and how to get it right. Some of Monday was spent layering over what I’d written, while the rest was simply finishing it. I was quite pleased with it as well, as it had been a very challenging chapter.
I’m finding I’m starting to come away from my plan, in some places. In the plan, I may say six things that need to happen in a chapter. When I come to write said chapter, however, I find that it’s taken me 5,000 words to only say half of them, or that it would actually make sense to end the chapter on point 4, as it is more organic or dramatic, and to include points 5 and 6 in the following chapter. Others might find it hard to deviate but I’m absolutely fine with this, as I only think it’s helping me improve the story.
As for the word count this week, it’s hard to tell how much I’m producing. Not only am I being very thorough with what I’m currently writing, once Chapter 1 is finished it will also reduce my overall word count. (Here’s hoping, anyway.) As such, I only recorded my word count until Wednesday.
|Week 14||Word Total||Daily Words|
|5 Dec 2016||105,867||836|
|6 Dec 2016||107,648||1,781|
|7 Dec 2016||108,704||1,056|
I don’t even know what my running word count is, at the moment. My guess is 110,000 words.
Although my work ethic was just the same for the rest of the week, it was quite freeing not to have a target to meet. Instead, it allowed me to focus on making that first chapter as best as it can be, without having to worry if I was hitting my targets or not. That’s where and how I’ll continue tomorrow. I’ve had plenty of time to add notes (30-odd bullet points, in fact) to my plan on how to improve Chapter 1 and to think it over, I just hope I can get it finished by the end of Week 15. Failing that, by the end of the year!
On a side note, I’ve been reading the same book (the excellent The Waste Lands by Stephen King) for three weeks now and I’m STILL not finished. I’m actually pretty disgusted with myself. I should’ve finished it in half that time. Come on, Tom!